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Leeds on brink, 73-year dream still alive: PL promotion race explained with a week to go

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Luke Ayling scores a goal for Leeds United, who are on the cusp of promotion.

Leeds could end a 16-year exile from the Premier League this week, while West Brom and Brentford face crucial games as the Championship promotion race nears a thrilling conclusion.
The second tier is famed for its unpredictability and, incredibly, with just a week to go, there is not a single team mathematically guaranteed to be in the division next season.
With a crucial few days in store for the sides chasing a return to the top flight, we take a closer look at the permutations and the crunch clashes taking place.
Brentford have not played in the top flight since 1946/47 but a stunning run of form since the restart means they’re still in the race for automatic promotion. The Bees have won the last seven league games, have won the most points in the Championship this calendar year (38) and with the best home record in the league to boot, will fancy their chances against struggling Stoke and Barnsley as they look to sign off from Griffin Park in style.
Could their goalscoring prowess prove crucial? Brentford are four points behind West Brom – although the Baggies have now played a game more after their goalless draw with Fulham on Tuesday.
Time running out but, as the top scorers in the division (78 goals), have a far superior goal difference than Bilic’s side, and they could close to within a point if they beat Preston on Wednesday – live on Sky Sports Football.
“We knew when we went into this restart we were 10 points off the top two so that was a very difficult task,” Frank said. “Our aim was to win as many games as possible and first and foremost to secure a play-off place and then see what is happening… right now, we are in a very good place.”
Leeds on the brink
After the heartache of last season, when a late collapse saw Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United pip them to the Premier League, before semi-final defeat to Derby in the play-offs, Leeds’ long wait is almost over.
Pablo Hernandez’s 89th-minute strike against Swansea felt pivotal; just four points will clinch promotion now and if Brentford lose on Wednesday, a draw or victory for Leeds at home to rock-bottom Barnsley on Thursday would seal it with two games to spare. If Brentford draw then only a win would be enough against the Tykes.
A 2-0 defeat to Cardiff set nerves jangling in the run-in again but Leeds have won four of their five games since.
Continuity has paid off. Marcelo Bielsa has never made secret the fact he prefers to work with a smaller squad and, barring loanees Ben White and Helder Costa, his team has remained largely unchanged since he arrived at Elland Road two years ago.
Hernandez has been influential despite his advancing years while White and Liam Cooper have formed a formidable partnership at the back; working in tandem with Kalvin Phillips – the midfielder touted as a future England star – they boast the division’s meanest defence.
The reward is tantalisingly close but Bielsa is keeping a cool head. “I cannot enjoy this. What you feel just is that you are taking a step forward. The only thing I can enjoy is the last objective if we get it.”
West Brom holding on
West Brom, like Leeds, returned this campaign with a vengeance having missed out in last season’s play-offs. The two sides have played out an enthralling game of cat and mouse – since October, no other sides have occupied the division’s top two spaces – and though Leeds have finally put some daylight between themselves and Slaven Bilic’s side, the title, as well as promotion, is still up for grabs.
However, a draw against Fulham on Thursday has opened up the door up for Brentford to close the gap. As mentioned before, if the Bees beat Preston on Wednesday then the gap will be just a point with two games to go. But Bilic is backing his players to hold their nerve: “We are playing good, really good – we are scoring goals, making chances, being compact, being intense,” he said. “There is no reason for us to doubt ourselves because our performance level is high.”
Who else is in the play-off mix?
Fulham failing to beat West Brom means their automatic-promotion hopes are very slim. They trail the Baggies by five points with two games to go.
Nottingham Forest have a two-point cushion over sixth-placed Cardiff, who beat Derby on Tuesday to tighten their grip on sixth.
Millwall moved up to seventh after beating Blackburn 1-0 on Tuesday, which ended Rovers’ play-off hopes.
Swansea are in eighth, four points behind Cardiff ahead of their trip to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday, and Preston are a point further back in ninth before their visit to Brentford.
Bristol City are in 11th but still have a slim chance of reaching the play-offs. And those hopes will be boosted further if they can beat Stoke on Wednesday and close the gap on Cardiff to three points.
Who’s going down?
The outlook seems bleak for Barnsley. They have lost just one of their last six games but with rivals also picking up points in a chaotic survival scrap, the Tykes are three points from safety and have Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Brentford left to play.
Luton’s failure to beat QPR on Tuesday, has left them in 23rd, two points adrift of safety. Their match against Hull on Saturday is crucial. Hull are level on points with the Hatters, but were thumped 8-0 at Wigan on Tuesday.
Wigan themselves are 12 points clear of the drop, but are facing a potential 12-point deduction at the end of the season after going into administration. Their vastly superior goal difference means that a 12-point cushion would be enough to keep them up.
Charlton are 21st and a point clear of Hull ahead of a huge trip to Birmingham on Wednesday. The Blues are just three points and two spots above the Addicks. And sat between them in 20th is Huddersfield, who are three points clear of the drop after drawing 0-0 at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday.
Stoke are four points clear of the drop ahead of their trip to Bristol City on Wednesday, while Middlesbrough’s 2-1 win at Reading on Tuesday moved them up to 17th and five points clear.

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